Where to feast on Middle East in our corner of the Mitten
Published: June 6, 2012
New Yasmeen Bakery 13900 W. Warren Ave., Dearborn; 313-582-6035; yasmeenbakery.com; $: If you don't mind eating with a plastic fork, you'll find some exceptional and unusual Lebanese dishes at this deli and bakery (the bakery offers dozens of kinds of sweets). Co-owner Hussain Siblini says that's because he employs old ladies who make traditional, really old, old handmade dishes. However traditional it may be, you'll always be sure to find something new next to the chicken shwarma and shish tawook.
Pita Cafe 25282 Greenfield, Oak Park; 248-968-2225; 239 N. Old Woodward, Birmingham; 248-645-6999; thepitacafe.com; $$: It's a busy place underneath the pretend grape arbor, because both the familiar — baba, shawarma, roasted vegetables — and the less so — arayis, ghallabas — are excellent. Arayis is pita topped with lamb, pine nuts and tahini, char-broiled. The Caesar salad and the grapefruit juice are best ever.
Royal Kabob 3236 Caniff St., Hamtramck; 313-872-9454; hroyalcabob.com; $$: Until a few years ago, it was actually a challenge to find good Middle Eastern food in Hamtramck. That started changing with the arrival of Royal Kabob on Caniff, which can provide everything from an ambitious platter to a humble, wax-paper-wrapped falafel sandwich. One of our favorites is the fattoush with chicken breast, with pita chips, romaine leaf, expert spicing and sliced chicken breast for protein. Though the spot does a brisk take-out business, the interior is bright and commodious, offering room for large parties. Better still, check out their takeout trays. If you're having a get-together and want plenty of food without the fuss of cooking, even their smaller trays contain enough food for a crew of trencherman.
Sheeba Restaurant 8752 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck; 313-874-0299; $: Yemeni cuisine served in a small and sparsely adorned building on the south side of Hamtramck. Cuisine in Yemen differs from more commonly known Middle Eastern cookery. Main dishes are generally prepared with chicken and lamb; in the coastal regions, fish is a staple. Dairy products such as milk, cheese and butter are rare. There is also prodigious use of fenugreek, a mildly bitter spice that finishes with a smoky, caramel-like flavor (fenugreek is a component in the manufacture of artificial maple syrup flavor). For a taste of that bone-in meat, order the lamb Haneeth. Succulent, deeply flavored and falling apart, fans of barbecue will instantly recognize the long roasting time that these hunks of flesh have seen.
Steve's Back Room 19872 Kelly Rd., Harper Woods; 313-527-5047; 24935 Jefferson Ave., St. Clair Shores; 586-774-9337; stevesbackroomjefferson.com; $$: Steve's is a back room no more. The 15-year-old eatery behind the swinging saloon doors of a grocery in Harper Woods is still open for lunch, but owner Steve Kalil has moved the main operation to the booming "Nautical Mile" of St. Clair Shores. The house specials feature what is best about Middle Eastern food: the sprightly flavors of lemon, garlic, parsley and olive oil, vegetables used in inventive ways, meat as a minor player. Desserts are standouts: try the apricots baked in liqueur, stuffed with pistachio nut butter and topped with yogurt, whipped cream, and sugared almonds. Or the "cream berry delight" — phyllo cups filled with a sweet pastry cheese, topped with whipped cream and strewn with fresh berries and raspberry sauce.
Yemen Café 8735 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck; 313-871-4349; $: On the lower end of the Joseph Campau strip, down by the viaduct, commerce is quickly becoming invigorating by fledgling Yemeni businesses, among them Yemen Café. The space is casual, with Formica booths and a television constantly tuned to Al Jazeera chattering away in Arabic. The staff speaks just enough English to get the job done, but the food speaks the universal language of flavor. Start with one of the ghallaba dishes, which come with chicken, beef or vegetable, and those averse to spice will want to specify a mild treatment. From there, you can move on to all sorts of interesting dishes, including lamb soup!
Special thanks to editorial interns Kathleen Conley, Ryan Felton and Jackie Rollin for their help compiling and fact-checking this column.
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